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Reviews

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle

Phillippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon

France, 2006

Credits

Review by Beth Gilligan

Posted on 26 January 2007

Source 35mm print

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French soccer superstar Zinédine Zidane made headlines around the world last July when, in the 110th minute of the World Cup Final against Italy, he violently head-butted Italian player Marco Materazzi. The red card (not to mention notoriety) he received for this action tarnished his standing as one of the sport’s golden boys, the hero who had led his country to World Cup victory in 1998.

Over a year before the head-butt incident occurred, filmmakers Phillipe Pareno and Douglas Gordon assembled a team of 17 cameramen to capture Zidane’s movements on the field in a game against Villareal. Playing for Real Madrid, the powerhouse team also boasting the likes of England’s David Beckham and Brazil’s Ronaldo, Zidane exhibits his trademark self-containment and focus on the field.

The film opens with a grainy overhead shot of the field lifted from Spanish television, with the (untranslated) Spanish commentators delivering their traditional banter about the game. Parreno and Gordon have a decidedly different strategy in mind, swiftly cutting to different body parts while subtitles (which appear to be Zidane’s inner monologue 1) flicker onscreen. The sound design is impressive (Kevin Shields is credited as a “noise consultant”), as the filmmakers alternatively opt to amplify the roar of the crowd, match the pitch to the television broadcast and nearly silence things to bring the focus to Zidane’s inner thoughts. Occasionally, dreamlike music (courtesy of the Scottish band Mogwai) overpowers the noise of the crowd.

The film’s 90 minutes are not, however, entirely comprised of the game at hand. Midway through the film, the directors abruptly shift their focus to other things going on in the world the day the game was being played—April 23, 2005. These eclectic events include the death of British actor Sir John Mills, a television interview granted by Elián González, news of exploding toads in Germany, a Turkish mine explosion, and a car bomb in Iraq. Whether the filmmakers’ intention with these scenes is to critique the way sports distract from world events or simply to show Zidane’s actions as being part of something bigger than the game at hand is unknown (though my inclination is to guess the latter).

The bodies that race across the field are occasionally filmed in slow-motion, to the extent that the movements of the players (Zidane especially) take on the grace of dancers (oddly, Norman MacLaren’s Pas de deux came to mind). Zidane, who is blessed with one of the greatest faces in modern sports (sorry, Becks), lives up to his reputation as a soccer legend with a triumphant pass to Ronaldo that results in a goal during the first half, but his mercurial nature is also hinted at later on when he receives a red card for a foul. The latter scene is accompanied by deafening music that underlines the crowd’s reaction as well as Zidane’s undoubtedly conflicted emotions. This intersection of sound and feeling are the hallmark Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, and as such, make it a vital portrait of a modern athlete.


1 – During the Q&A following the film, the producers confirmed that the subtitles were created based on interviews with Zidane, who was an enthusiastic participant in the film.

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